Category Archives: spotlight

Meet the Teach: Andrew Cornelius

Hello, ComedySportz New York Loyal Fanz!

Its been a great summer. Some of our Playerz have produced works of their own (A.J. Cote’s Puppet Shakespeare premiered Puppet Titus Andronicus and James Rana launched a revised Zoro!) and “we dominated” at the ComedySportz tournament in Milwaukee; according to the subject of this month’s blog, Andrew Cornelius. More on him later.

Production ReadyBut fun aside, we’re officially “post Labor Day”, which means back to school time for students, old and young. And with that we wanted to spotlight the instructor our 303 class.  None other than the super talented Andrew Cornelius. Andrew is a prime example that in order to stay knowledgeable and fresh in any field, you have to keep learning. He is a “proud graduate” from Second City A – E (games), Second City Conservatory and Musical Conservatory, iO, Annoyance, in Chicago; as well as Magnet Musical Improv, The PIT, UCB and Broadway’s Next Hit Musical. Training aside, he’s also equally as supportive off the stage as he is on and he took some time (while he was on vacation) to answer some questions about the upcoming level 303 class.

How long have you been performing as a ComedySportz player and why did you join?

My debut show with ComedySportz New York City was July 30th, 2011.  I was a part of  short-form improv comedy teams in Chicago from 2005 – 2010 prior to that.  I joined ComedySportz because my friend from musical improv classes, Drew Tarvin, got me an audition slot.  I should point out Drew is now a CSz manager…so, I think he has good taste.

What’s a fun memory that you have from performing with CSz?

I was blown away by ComedySportz tournament this year in Milwaukee, WI.  It is such an amazing feeling to perform this kind of comedy locally, and then travel to find there are other performers across the United States (and the UK and Germany) doing the work as well or better.  The icing on the cake was performing in front of an audience of local fans and being funny enough to win the votes away from the home team.  Eat it, Milwaukee!

What do you love about coaching/ teaching?

I love teaching in general.  There are so many ways to do a particular scene well, and I like to put on my “Artistic Director” hat and shine the light on other ways to make a successful scene.  In particular, I love teaching the 300 level classes because this is where I get to show off the “cheat-codes.”  Not only do we get to delve into the micro-comedy of “what is the built-in comedy in a game?” but we get to tackle macro-comedy questions of “where can we mine the whole-show comedy gold?”

What coach/teacher was the biggest influence on your playing style?

The biggest influence on my playing was Mick Napier of the Annoyance.  The Annoyance was like improv graduate school for me.  He taught me my style of play, which I would describe as aggressively collaborative.  I convey comedic ideas, but not at the expense of my scene partner’s.

What do you hope students will gain from the class?

If I did my job, the students will walk away better players of the ComedySportz game canon and leave with an understanding of how to maximize their comedy opportunities in a short-form improv show.

Sign up for our next semester today. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Player Spotlight: James Rana

james-ranaThis post is dedicated to our next player celebrating a spring birthday: James Rana.

James Rana, born on May 6th, is probably the most debonaire and cultured member of our ComedySportz New York team, although he would be highly embarrassed to read that or even be told so–he is equally as humble as his voice is smooth. (If you’ve ever heard him speak on stage or through our speakers, as Mr. Voice, you know this to be true.) He’s so smooth, you would never have guessed that he’s from Teaneck, New Jersey. (I’m from New Jersey, so I get to say that.)

A lover of tuxedos and all things related to the arts, James got his start in the world of physical comedy, through a birthday gift of juggling lessons given to him by his aunt. He loved it so much that he almost applied to Ringling Clown College, but of course his parents were not thrilled with that idea.

Not being dissuaded, he continued to study juggling, clowning and some physical theater while in college. He jokes that when it was time to go to college, since he grew up in Teaneck, “[he] decided that it was time to get out of Teaneck, so [he] went to Fairleigh Dickinson University…in Teaneck.”

That isn’t to say that he didn’t want to move on from the Garden State. At 19, after watching a lot of SCTV and reading the improvisation manual Truth in Comedy, he wrote to Charna Halpern (co-founder of the ImprovOlympic) who surprisingly wrote back, extending an invitation to come to Chicago. However, being unsure of his ability to survive on his own in Chi-Town, he stayed and became immersed in every possible form of artistic study: from acting to dance to the radio station at FDU.

I believe that one of the things that makes James a fun player is his dedication to learning, which led to the many opportunities that he has acquired as a professional performer. His resume is a dizzying list of skills: Renaissance Faire man, children’s theater, balloon sculptor, fire eater, stilt walker (he leads the Mermaid Parade as Uncle Sam on stilts every summer at Coney Island), Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Law and Order: SVU, Santa Claus, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Classical Theatre of Harlem, The Big Apple Circus and on and on.

In addition to his performances, James has also created and produced a documentary on Edgar Allan Poe, distributed by NPR, and has written several plays, including “The Poe Mysteries” and adapted versions of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Zorro,” which will premiere in July (look for more info on that in the summer).

So, with all of this under his belt, of course my question was, “why did you decide to audition for ComedySportz?” In true James Rana form, his answer was “I thought it would help me become a better performer.” He went on to say, “I’ve enjoyed watching myself grow” and “feel more confident.” He recalls that early on there was a feeling of “being like a deer in the headlights” but now he’s embracing that there’s “something wonderful about going on that stage and you do not know what’s going to happen. That’s a scary thing but it’s also a beautiful thing.” Well said, James.

His favorite game is Dead Serious (Serious Scene). He comments that it’s “like a really bad version of a soap opera. It’s a fun way to really get to act.” He’s also “fallen in love with 3 Things.”

Now, there’s plenty more that I can say about James, and I will later in the summer, as we get closer to the premier of his adapted version of “Zorro;” but for now I will leave you with what he would want to tell himself a year from now: “Keep breathing.”

10 Things You Should Know About…

It’s finally Spring in NYC!! We can tell by 3 things: 1. People start wearing shorts even though its only 45 degrees. 2. ComedySportz NYC’s 10 Year Anniversary was April 26th 3. Several of our Playerz are having birthdays back to back. Find out about two of them (one being me) in a segment below, that I just made up, called:

Ten Things You Should Know About MJC and MFT

1. Full Name

2. Birth Day

April 15th

April 18th

3. Hometown

Philadelphia, PA

East Orange / Montclair, NJ

(Lived equal amounts of time in both cities)

4. College

Syracuse University

Temple University

Seton Hall University then transferred in my “Junior Year” to

William Paterson University

5. Studied Improv at….

Random improv workshop in Philly

Second City, Toronto

Players Workshop @ Second City, Chicago

Improv Olympic, Chicago

The Peoples Improv Theater

Upright Citizens Brigade

6. Teams That You’ve Been On

The Edmund Fitzgerald (iO) Aug. 1993

One Night Stand (iO) Oct.-Dec. 1993

Distant Cousins (iO) Jan.-Mar. 1994

Mr. Blonde (iO) Jan.-Nov ’94;

May – Jul. ’95

ComedySportz Chicago – Oct.’94-Apr ‘96

Annie Sprinkle (iO) – Jan.-Mar 1996

ComedySportz Philadelphia –

Apr ‘97 – Nov ‘00

Lunchlady Doris  – Sept ’97 – Jun ‘00

ComedySportz NYC – Dec ‘00-Nov ‘01; Oct. 2011-present

Myth Reduction – Nov. 2001- 2002

Corpa –  ? – Sept. 2002

Jonathan Maximus Rockenstern Presents (indie/PIT) Sept. 2002-Aug. 2003

Let’s Get Serious (PIT) ?-? 2003

Side Project  – ?-? 2004

Butter (The Project/Magnet) Sept ‘04-Nov ‘05; Nov. 2006

The Rebecca Factory (The Project/Magnet) – Jan.-Jun. 2006

CON (Magnet) Feb.-Mar. 2007

The Class Of… (Magnet/indie) Jan.-Mar. 2008; Jun. 2010

“I’m forgetting some.”

The Indoor Kids – 2008 – 2009

Brenda! – 2010 – 2011

Michelin – 2011 – Present

Nobody’s Token – 2011 – 2012

ComedySportz NYC – 2012 – Present

Scandal-prov – 2012

Midnight Society – 2013

Thomas, Newman, Parker and Murphy – 2013

Trauma Center – 2013

The Pin-Up Squirrels – 2013

Yes, Chef! (The PIT) – 2013 – Present-ish

Gas Station Horror – 2014 – Present

7. When/How Did You Get Involved With ComedySportz?

“The night of Mr. Blonde’s last show, my friend Bill was in the audience and came up to me (while I was depressed (and thinking) “There’s nothing after this. I’m going back to Philly. I’m done here. I’m not gonna get on another iO team because nothing’s going to be as good”) and said “You know ComedySportz auditions are next week You’re auditioning, right?”

I said “No. I do long form. I do slow comedy. I can’t do that fast stuff.” Bill said, “Oh, you don’t have to be fast, you just have to be quick.” To this day, I have no idea what that means but somehow it got me to audition.”

“I saw the audition notice on Backstage.com. I already had experience in short form through volunteering with an organization called Cherub Improv, but I wasn’t sure if “short form was for me,” but I figured I at least knew enough games to have fun in the audition. I did. I got a call back and the rest is history.”

8. Favorite ComedySportz game

Heavy Rotation. “We don’t play it in NYC because it’s better with four players. It’s crazy.”

Fairytale Half-Life

9. Favorite Color to Play As

“I like the color blue better, so maybe blue, but maybe red so I get to see the blue uniforms on the other team.”

“Red, of course.”

10. Favorite Moment As An Audience Member and/or Player

“I can’t tell my favorite moment on a family website, but my second favorite moment was in 1998, when I was in ComedySportz Philadelphia, and Tom McManus proposed to his now-wife, Micheline, on stage during New Choice (they were both CSz players). She was wearing a wacky yellow shower cap.”

“A few months ago, we did an All-Skate Day in the Life Musical. I enjoyed playing the main character; an 8th grade girl that went to a boarding school. During her story, she mentioned that a “new girl” on the team fell when they were playing ice hockey. During our rendition, after the “new girl” fell, everyone started laughing, so I said, “Hey, guys, we’re better than that,” and began to help her up but then skated past her to score. (As I imagined she might have wanted to do in real life.)”

*11. Bonus – If you were to read this interview a year from now, what would you want to tell your future self?

“I hope you’re still doing this.”

“Slow motion is better than no motion. Keep moving forward.”

 

 About the Author: Michelle Francesca Thomas is a five-year improv veteran, an Essex County, NJ, native, and a lover of comedy. She has studied improv at the PIT and UCB and can been seen performing with ComedySportzNYC at the Broadway Comedy Club.

Players Spotlight: Anna Abhau Elliott

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Anna Anna bo-bana

banana fana fo fana
me mi mo mana Anna

If you haven’t guessed by that lovely homage to The Name Game, this month’s Player’s Spotlight is dedicated to Anna Abhau Elliott.

Anna, one of our newer players, is originally from Philadelphia (the Mount Airy section, to be exact). Growing up, she was a fan of ComedySportz Philly, and she started improv while in high school. She was chosen to participate in an avant garde magic show in New York; and throughout high school, she performed improv with This Side Up, a division of the MacGuffin Theatre and Film Company.

Moving forward a decade or so, Anna graduated from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU with a BFA in Drama and a minor in history. Anna says she “didn’t participate in much improv because of her rigorous studies;” however, she and a few friends did create performances of “devised theater.” Specifically, they wrote a play entitled Home/Sick,which was mounted at Wesleyan University in January of this year.

So, how did Anna get involved with ComedySportz NYC? She took a improv workshop at ComedySportz Los Angeles, and the teacher was former CSz NYC player John Woodruff. He suggested she audition for CSz NYC, and the rest is (almost) a year of history.

Watching Anna play, it looks like she’s really enjoying the game. When I asked how her year has been, she replied, “Fun. I still get really nervous before shows and it is scary sometimes to play games that I’ve never played before, but everyone is very supportive.” Two games that she really enjoys are New Choice and ThreeThingz. She describes New Choice as “fun and weird.” When commenting on Three Things, she says, “If you get it right, it’s thrilling. If you get it very wrong, it’s still entertaining. It’s so surreal.”

When reflecting on comedy, Anna says, “Just making the simplest choice is really funny.” In comparing stand-up to improv, “the best joke (in writing) doesn’t always make the audience laugh. It’s weird what makes something a joke. You can aspire to make some beautiful souffle of a joke that comes together but, especially withComedySportz, you don’t have time. Just give the people what they want. You can trust the architecture of the game and not overcomplicate things.”

Anna says that her playing style is “psyched! with obscure/off kilter references…while aspiring to be simple and elegant.” Hearing all of Anna’s interesting points of view, I finally asked her, “If you could tell yourself something a year from now, what would it be?” Her reply: “I’m proud of you.”

And we’re proud of you, too, Anna.

About the Author: Michelle Francesca Thomas is a five-year improv veteran, an Essex County, NJ, native, and a lover of comedy. She has studied improv at the PIT and UCB and can been seen performing with ComedySportzNYC at the Broadway Comedy Club.

Loyal Fan Spotlight: Kayla Ryan

1471247_10151776354206516_1777111345_nEvery weekend there are hundreds, dare I say, thousands of Loyal Fanz that come out to watch our matches across the country. They enjoy the fun and healthy competition, then leave with some stories to share with their friends and family, who weren’t there.

However there’s usually another group of Loyal Fanz at every match, that you can “sense” from the stage. They’re the kind of people that are so locked in; it’s almost as if they are mentally playing the games with us. I call them “Loyal Fanz For Life” or “LFFL” for short.

A few weeks ago after a match, one young lady that was sitting amongst a group of LFFLs came up to us and introduced herself as Kayla Ryan, Loyal Fan from Buffalo; who has decided to tour every ComedySportz city in the country.

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That’s awesome! “Tell me more,” I thought, but unfortunately before I could get a chance to get into my hard-hitting journalist stance, Kayla and her friends flew off into the night. Luckily for me, there’s Facebook and Gmail. So after a week of corresponding, here’s what I found out about this awesome young woman from Buffalo. 

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Kayla Rosemary Ryan is a self-proclaimed “really big Loyal Fan.”  When I asked why she loves it so much, she said “THERE ARE A MILLION REASONS! If I write them all you will never get my responses to all of your questions.” But after a few days, she was able to sum it up in this thought: “You never know what you are going to see! Every show is different.”

Some of Ms. Ryan’s favorite games are Simon, Replay at Bernies and Hallmark Card. When I asked if she could see a ComedySportz open anywhere, she said “it would be really cool if there was at least one ComedySportz on every continent. I might be the only one who would actually want to visit ComedySportz Antarctica… but it would be awesome! Also, if there was a ComedySportz Middle Earth, I would go to it. Just saying…” For now, she plans to visit Philadelphia, in January, for the next stop of her tour.

In addition to her passion for ComedySportz, Kayla has started her own accessories business. Sorry, no website yet, but if you’re in the Buffalo area talk to her after one of their shows. She’ll probably be there. Kayla once went six months straight without missing a show. She also loves bowling, reading and playing Encore. “I’ve never lost and will gladly accept any challengers,” she comments.

Sounds like Kayla also has the competitive edge that is inside every ComedySportz Player.

Oh, and remember what I said about how LFFLs seem to be mentally playing the games with us? In this case, it’s probably because Kayla has taken ComedySportz classes; so she’s probably one step closer to being a Player than she thinks.

Kayla believes that “everyone should try taking improv classes sometime. They were a lot of fun and they really helped boost my confidence. I went from being extremely shy, to having the ability to form somewhat coherent sentences when talking to strangers.”  You can absolutely tell that from her responses and beautiful smile. Thanks Kayla!

 

Player Spotlight: Tamara Nolte

It’s the holiday season, so I figured what better way to celebrate than by dedicating this post to Tamara Nolte, our social media coordinator; as a way of giving thanks for her hard work.tamara nolte

Oh, who is Tamara Nolte? She’s our new player from Chicago, by way of Boston and Media, Pennsylvania. (If you were thinking of making the joke “Do they produce a lot of media, in Media?” Trust me, it’s not as funny as you’d think. I already tried it.)

To say that Tamara (pronounced Tam-era, like Camera) has been performing for a while, is an understatement. While in Pennsylvania, she participated in at least three to four productions a year, with the Young People’s Theatre Workshop and Upper Darby Summer Stage (yeah, that same place that Tina Fey wrote about in her biography). “The intensity to which everything is produced is amazing. The production value is so high; from the costumes, to sets and everything. The only thing is, Aunt Eller is 14 years old.”

However, learning that this Cancerian was a young theater superstar (those are my words, not hers 🙂 ) wasn’t really a surprise to me. She has the playfulness and poise of someone who has been performing all of her life, every time she takes the stage.

So, how did Tamara get involved with ComedySportz? To hear her explain it, she had her heart set on studying improv after graduating from Boston College. While at Boston College, she performed as Gilmer in Godspell, and enjoyed improvising within the play so much that she decided to take classes as the Improv Asylum. After graduation, she moved to Chicago to study at the Second City Conservatory, Annoyance Productions and Improv Olympic; where she became a member of their Harold Team, “Quincy.” All of this experience and her love of rhyming, eventually led her to book a gig called “The BeatBox,” which incorporated a lot of short form games in the show. Being pretty inexperienced in that style of play, Tamara soon enrolled in some ComedySportz classes and the rest is a part of her 10 year Chicago improv history.

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(Shameless CSz Related Plug: Learn more about ComedySportz Classes here!)

Since, Tamara is a seasoned improviser and a female, I had to ask how she felt about the term “Female Improviser.”

“I don’t hate the term. I am a female improviser. That is technically what I am. I never really acknowledged the “femaleness” of being an improviser, until much later in my improv career. Although I don’t play the gender card that often, I think that there are sensibilities or cultural understandings that impact how women and men play within scenes, and in the world, with each other; and to not acknowledge that would be foolish.”

Final thought: when I asked what she would want to see changed about her life, if she read this interview a year from now, she replied, “I would like to know the City a bit more. Things are still fresh and up in the air, so I would hope that I would be a little more settled….Bring it New York!”

Well said, T. And I (and New York) look forward to getting to know you, too.

For more information about Tamara Nolte, go to www.TamaraNolte.com

ComedySportz. Playerz gonna play.